NASA has taken a significant step forward in advancing space technology by awarding a total of $150 million in funding to 11 companies. The awards, announced as part of NASA’s Tipping Point program, aim to support various advanced space tech projects ranging from power generation on the lunar surface to additive manufacturing for space habitats. The selected technologies are considered “tipping points,” where investment in demonstrations would substantially mature the technology and make it market-ready for future NASA missions and commercial customers.
According to Prasun Desai, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, the awards are meant to propel crucial technologies over the finish line. He expressed excitement about the potential of these partnerships with industry players to play a vital role in humanity’s return to the Moon under the Artemis mission.
Five of the 11 awards are focused on technologies that will support long-term lunar exploration. Notably, Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, secured $34.7 million to advance further its solution for processing solar cells from lunar regolith. The innovative process, part of Blue Origin’s Blue Alchemist initiative, could bootstrap unlimited electricity and power transmission cables across the Moon’s surface. Meanwhile, Astrobotic, a company aiming to land a lunar rover in the fourth quarter of this year, received $34.6 million to demonstrate a new power and transmission system on the lunar surface through the LunaGrid-Lite project. The initiative seeks to generate solar power and transmit it through a one-kilometer-long power cable on the Moon, enabling sustainable and continuous operations for crewed and robotic missions.
The remaining six projects receiving Tipping Point awards focus on different areas of space technology. For instance, Varda Space Industries was awarded $1.9 million to mature and commercialize an advanced thermal protection system material, originally developed by NASA. United Launch Alliance secured $25 million to continue the development of an inflatable heat shield technology, with potential applications for returning rocket booster portions from space.
Notably, Blue Origin also received funding for another Tipping Point project called Project Harmonia, in partnership with Zeno Power Systems. This initiative awarded $15 million, aims to create a new type of radioisotope power supply for NASA’s Artemis moon program, utilizing americium-241 as fuel. The team’s Stirling generators could provide continuous power to lunar bases for years, a groundbreaking development in sustaining long-term operations on the Moon.
The Tipping Point program represents NASA’s sixth award cycle, with each company receiving funding contributing between 10 per cent to 25 per cent of the total project cost based on their size. NASA’s investment in these innovative projects aligns with its mission to harness American innovation and ingenuity, paving the way for future space exploration endeavors.
As the technologies mature and reach critical milestones over the next four years, NASA’s Space Technology Directorate will potentially make further funding available to continue advancing these critical space advancements. The agency’s commitment to strengthening partnerships with industry players fosters a promising future for space exploration and discovery.